December 23, 2015

Is My Vacation Balance a Measure of Work-Life Balance?

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is just about here, and New Year’s is also fast approaching. Where did the year go?! I’ll save the recap/goal posts for next week, but I wanted to talk a little bit now about my upcoming vacation.

At my company, we implement a “firmwide shutdown” starting on Christmas Day and running all the way through New Year’s Day. Yes, you have to use a few vacation days for this, but they’re always very generous about also giving us a few freebies to supplement. The daily company newsletter has been doing a countdown to the shutdown, which reminds us of all the tasks we need to get done beforehand in order to truly walk away free and clear… but I have to say, the countdown has actually made fairly antsy instead of excited. Hello, my name is Laura, and I’m apparently a workaholic.

Last week, I went to check my vacation balance, and saw that it was maxed out. That didn’t really come as too much of a surprise, since I pretty much keep it in a perpetually-maxed out state and have long ago stopped accruing (Red flag #1). But what did surprise me was when I saw how much vacation I’ve taken year-to-date: 14 hours (Red flag #2). That’s less than 10% of what I’m given – not good!

After browsing a whole bunch of articles online about workaholism (see, I’m browsing the web aimlessly: I’m not a workaholic!), most of them don’t really seem to apply to me. I don’t stay crazy long hours at the office, and I don’t (usually) go into the office on weekends. Yes, I frequently work from home on nights and weekends, but that’s usually just sending a few emails I didn’t get to during the day – I don’t typically schedule meetings or conference calls after 6:30pm. And while Adam might disagree, I think I make time for the important occasions.

Most sources ultimately boil the hallmark of workaholism down to having a life that’s out of balance, where you’re prioritizing work over everything else. In my opinion, that definitely doesn’t apply to me! I’m really proud of my time management and how I’m able to do a lot of stuff and see a lot of people. I go to the gym nearly every day, and usually read a little bit every day too. (Definitely a bunch of blogs/news articles daily, and usually a few dozen pages of a book as well. I am loving Carly Fiorina’s memoir right now!) I don’t have a lot of downtime, true, but even as a kid I never enjoyed sitting around; I’d rather be productive.

I feel like I strike a pretty good balance between work and the rest of my life, and I’m really happy that I’ve reached a level of my career where I have a large degree of autonomy to make those decisions for myself. There are work days when I’ll leave to go to the doctor or take a personal call, and there are nights/weekends when I’m more than happy to do some work if it’s needed. It’s a lot of give and take, and I feel like as long as I have time for the things I love, it’s working out fine.

Me, a lot. I genuinely don’t mind! Unsurprisingly, I would not be at all pleased to work in a country where I wasn’t allowed to check my email after hours.

To me, the ultimate balance is when you can mix business and pleasure in a seamless way – switching from one to the other on an as-needed basis rather than having defined hours for each. Because of that preference, I am really grateful for today’s technology that lets me check email anywhere. It means that I can be lying on a beach answering urgent emails for a little bit in the midst of an otherwise work-free vacation. I’d rather have that flexibility than face a black-and-white scenario where I can only get things done when I’m in the office, so I’m chained to my desk as a result!

I have never made a secret out of the fact that I check my work email every morning when I’m on vacation. In fact, I tell all my coworkers that I’ll be doing so, and that they are welcome to reach me via email if something important comes up. Hey, I’d much rather do that than have them calling my cell phone and actively interrupting me! I find that spending 30 minutes or so each morning sending a few quick replies, delegating things of importance, and labeling/archiving the rest saves me hours of time and stress when I get back to the office. To me, it’s a great tradeoff and one I’m very happy to keep making.

Checking email while I’m on vacation helps me not fear what awaits me on my return.

So… is that really so bad? Although I will still be checking my email every morning, I’m planning to spend some time over the holidays thinking a lot about my work-life balance and whether I’m truly striking a balance – that high vacation balance has me a little concerned. I’m really looking forward to New Year’s and the chance to set some really meaningful goals and resolutions for myself in 2016, so it’s time for me to start preparing to do big things.

PS – if you’re looking to do some reflection of your own, my colleague Jullien has created a New Year Guide that I’m looking forward to completing over the break. It’s free with email signup, and he shares some really great content to help you start thinking about what you really want! Please note that this is not an affiliate link or anything like that; just something I’m looking forward to completing that I thought you might enjoy as well 🙂


11 thoughts on “Is My Vacation Balance a Measure of Work-Life Balance?”

  1. I hope you take time to relax and run away from those emails this week! I used to be terrible about working all the time… then I just let go one day. I should probably work a little more now though… I just don’t want to wear pants. LOL! Happy Holidays!

  2. -relaxing does not necessarily mean doing nothing, as you know.
    -can you distinguish the “I have to’s” and the “I get to’s”?

    And those of us who try to guilt us into thinking that balance must mean I need to veg-out…..I wish them much wonderful coal in their stocking to warm their cold hearts!! 🙂

    Merry Christmas and may 2016 bring peace to you and the world!

  3. Some people are just not built to put work on “total” hold as responsibility weighs heavily in their persona. As long as you are able to fit in the important family/friend fun times and commitments, banish those guilt tugs–answer those emails and delegate away! That’s the bonus the new technology and “work-at-home” flexibilty has wrought for those saavy enough to take advantage. Gone are the 9 to 5 constrictures of work vs. home life. Celebrate it…which I see you are doing very well! 🙂
    Peace and love in this season of joy!

  4. I am coming off of 2 weeks off of work for the first time ever (although with holidays only had to use 7 days). My vacation balance was reaching the max allowable (5 weeks and all carries over). I made a firm ooo that said I would not respond to emails for the first 9 days and then sporadic after that. It has been amazingly refreshing. I am going through my inbox now as to not waste all day tomorrow but it was really amazing to disconnect. And, nothing happened that could not wait (I had delegated some work). I have severe guilt with taking time off and for once I am coming around on the leave work at work which can be difficult working in a 24/7 news environment.

    1. That is a GREAT idea to specify that you won’t check email for a few days, but then you’ll catch up toward the end – it would work particularly well for long vacations.

  5. Just like lots of things, work like balance isn’t something that is given to you, but something you have to take. Especially now that you’re moving up in your career, there will always be ‘something’ that needs to be done. One of the most successful people I’ve ever worked for said it best when he said that “scheduling time off should be like anything else that I do. Not half assed, but instead actually being away. We’re not curing cancer, life will go on if I don’t get back to someone for 3 days”.

    I would challenge you to ask yourself who you are benefiting by being available 24/7 – and what it is costing you and those around you. Do those benefits outweigh the costs? Are there actions that you can perform to maintain 90% of the benefits for those people for 10% of the costs? Also, what benefits are there to being gone? Not personal benefits, but actual work benefits? Financial? Growth opportunities for other resources?

    1. Definitely some financial opportunities if I am not working, as you know 🙂 I think the trickiest part right now is that I don’t have a team to fall back on, which makes it harder to step away.

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